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Saudi Arabian court jails teacher for 20 years for tweets

Asaad al-Ghamdi's conviction follows that of his brother, who was handed a death sentence for his online activity
Asaad al-Ghamdi, above, is the brother of UK-based prominent scholar and government critic Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi (Human Rights Watch)

A Saudi Arabian man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges related to his social media activity, the organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Tuesday.

On 29 May, Asaad al-Ghamdi, a 47-year-old teacher, was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism tribunal of “challenging the religion and justice of the King and the Crown Prince”, and “publishing false and malicious news and rumours”.

According to court documents reviewed by HRW, al-Ghamdi was arrested for “for publishing posts that harmed the security of the homeland on social media websites (Twitter)”.

Al-Ghamdi has languished in Dhahban prison in Jeddah since he was arrested in front of his wife and children on 20 November in a night-time raid on his home in the al-Hamdaneyah neighbourhood of the port city.

He was held incommunicado for most of his detention, spending three months in solitary confinement. He was only permitted a visit from his family in January.

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Al-Ghamdi was denied adequate medical attention for his epilepsy throughout his detention. As a result he suffered multiple seizures, according to informed sources who spoke to HRW.

Al-Ghamdi was only informed of the charges against him during a first trial session in September, after which the court appointed him a lawyer who refused to share information about the case with him or his family.

According to HRW, the lawyer also refused to meet al-Ghamdi or his family outside the court sessions and rejected the family's request that he present evidence of al-Ghamdi's medical condition in court.

The tweets used as evidence against al-Ghamdi reportedly critiqued Vision 2030, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious project for diversifying the country's economy, HRW said, citing informed sources.

Another tweet mourned Dr Abdallah al-Hamed, founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, who died in prison.

'A false ruling'

Al-Ghamdi’s conviction follows that of his brother, Mohammed al-Ghamdi, who was issued a death sentence in July 2023 over tweets made from an anonymous account with nine followers.

His tweets, seen by Middle East Eye, focused on unemployment, inflation, and government mismanagement of resources, and called for the release of political prisoners.

A third brother, Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a prominent Islamic scholar and political dissident, is living in exile in the UK. HRW noted that Saudi authorities often target the family members of dissidents abroad in order to coerce them into coming back to the country.

Saeed condemned his brother's sentencing in a tweet in July last year as a "false ruling" that "aims to spite me personally after failed attempts by the investigations to return me to the country”.

“Saudi courts mete out decades-long sentences to ordinary citizens for nothing more than peacefully expressing themselves online,” Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW, said in a statement.

“The government should also stop punishing family members of critics living abroad.”

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